SW TIG Week: Doing What We Do in Evaluation and Loving It by Carrie Petrucci

Hello! I’m Carrie Petrucci, MSW, Ph.D. I came to evaluation by doing it before I knew I was doing it. Truth be told, my mixed methods dissertation was indeed an “evaluation”. However, I discovered early on that I didn’t dare call it that because evaluation research was “poo-pooed” at most research universities (at that time, anyway). As an example, in my ethnography class, I’ll never understand why another student’s work doing ethnographic observation in a “laundree-mat”, as he called it, was somehow more valued by the instructor than my court observations, but there it was. I had earned my Masters in Social Welfare prior to going back to school for my Ph.D., and had worked as a child protective services worker and as a program director in community corrections. So there was no escaping the practical leanings of my work. My Ph.D. was in Social Welfare with a self-imposed minor in criminal justice. For both my MSW (1991-1993) and my Ph.D. (1998-2002), very few people understood why I was combining these two disciplines, but to me the answer was simple: that’s where our clients were (in jail or prison). Sadly, the statistics bear this out, then and now. Early on, I found some common ground of combining social welfare and criminal justice in scholars such as Michael Tonry, Norval Morris, David Wexler, Bruce Winick, Richard Enos, Joan Petersilia and Al Roberts. Later there would be many more. So what’s the point of this story?

Hot Tips:

  • First, be passionate about your work, and don’t be dissuaded by others who may not share your point-of-view. My interdisciplinary approach was not “in vogue” at the time that I initially pursued it, but has since become highly valued.
  • Second, find mentors who share your passion, or at least parts of it. I was incredibly fortunate to have an MSW research advisor and a dissertation committee that stood by my interdisciplinary approach. And it remains very much a part of my work almost 20 years later.
  • Third, trust your instincts, but also come to understand why you do what you do, and the evidence that supports it, but also explore the reasons against it. What other scholars and experts in the field share your view? What evidence do they provide? What about the “naysayers” on how you do what you do? Learn from all of them.
  • Finally, as a contracted evaluator, it may take a few years, but work to get to a place in which you’re only taking on projects that matter to you. The level of detail in this work is overwhelming, and in my opinion, the best way to maintain high standards is to care about what we do.

One last point – caring about what we do doesn’t mean we lack objectivity – but that’s another blog.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating SW TIG Week with our colleagues in the Social Work Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our SW TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.


1 thought on “SW TIG Week: Doing What We Do in Evaluation and Loving It by Carrie Petrucci”

  1. Justin Garrison

    Hello, My name is Justin Garrison, I am currently learning about program evaluation. I was reading your story and it all made sense when you got the hot tips part. I get asked all the time why I am so young pursuing psychology. This is something I strive for. I have so much passion in this area and its hard to explain it at times. I never actually looked for mentors so I appreciate tip 2. Tip 3 confirmed what I already knew. Trust in yourself. I preach this all day. I can only imagine how overwhelming this is. School is killing me right now, and I know its going to get harder. I think your tips will help me a lot. Thank you.

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